By Carmen Cusido
January 19, 2011
After nearly three years without passenger service at Trenton-Mercer Airport, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes announced yesterday that the county had received a “letter of intent” indicating Streamline, a subsidiary of Charter Air Transport, is prepared to start service there to destinations that have not yet been determined.
“I’ve always been a strong advocate for a healthy mix of commercial, corporate, and private aviation. The addition of Streamline would be a very positive development for the Mercer County economy. This new airline would offer the public convenient air travel options close to home,” said Hughes, who was joined by Mark Cestari, Charter Air’s vice president of marketing, and Gordon Spelich, CEO, at the Wednesday afternoon press conference at the County’s McDade Administration Building. Cestari formerly was an executive with Shuttle America, which stopped flying out of Trenton-Mercer about seven years ago.
It the letter of intent, Streamline said it is considering destination cities in the Northeast, Midwest and Southern United States. It has passenger service from Long Island, N.Y., to Atlantic City and from Miami, Fla., to Cuba, according to a statement.
The airline must receive approvals from the Federal Aviation Administration and the federal Department of Transportation, said county spokeswoman Julie Willmot. Any agreement between the airline and the county also is subject to approval by the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
While the company is looking at other markets, Trenton-Mercer Airport is a top priority and is ideal because of the proximity to New York and Philadelphia, Cestari said. The company would commit to the Trenton market for at least two years, Cestari said.
Spelich said there is an untapped niche market here in the Trenton-Mercer area, with nearly 2 million people in a 25-mile radius, adding, “We’re hopeful for an April opening.”
If an agreement is reached, Streamline is set to launch on April 5. The company would begin offering weekday, nonstop, roundtrip flights twice per day at peak business hours, according to a statement.
The new agreement would restore service to the public from Trenton-Mercer Airport for the first time since early 2008, when both commercial providers, Boston-Maine Airways and Big Sky Airlines, ended service due to financial hardships created by the recession.
A dozen airlines had tried – and failed – at the airport since 1983.
In the late ’90s, former County Executive Robert D. Prunetti sought to expand the antiquated airport terminal to try to attract Southwest Airlines and other carriers.
In early 2004, Shuttle America, at the time the sole airline providing passenger service at Trenton-Mercer, announced it would leave and end flights to suburban Boston and Pittsburgh. Independence Air, formerly Atlantic Coast, also snubbed the Ewing airport in 2004. That same year Southwest and Frontier airlines announced they would locate nearby at Philadelphia International.
In early 2006, a start up airline called DJ Air Group showed serious interest in the airport but dropped out of the picture later that year.
According to Streamline, the flights will be provided on 30-seat EMB-120 aircraft operated by Charter Air Transport.
Cestari called the turbo-prop aircraft “neighbor-friendly,” explaining that they are quieter and do not burn as much fuel as jets of equal size. The aircraft cruise at about 300 miles per hour.
“We are an established operation with an experienced crew – this is not a startup,” Cestari said.
Based in Cleveland, Charter Air Transport is part of the larger Business Aircraft Group organization based at Burke Lakefront Airport in Ohio.
For years, some residents have opposed any expansion and commercial flights at Trenton Mercer because of noise issues.
Ed O’Mara, a former Hopewell Township resident, used to protest commercial flight noise at the airport through the activities of PLANE, People Limiting Airport Noise and Expansion, which has since disbanded. Now a resident of West Windsor, O’Mara said yesterday he doesn’t believe the planes would be neighbor friendly. “It’s coming from the airline; it’s a biased opinion,” he said.
O’Mara, 80, recalled planes going over his house frequently.
“Eleven airlines have come in and left,” O’Mara said, “It proves Trenton is not a good place” for a carrier, O’Mara said.
A number of pharmaceutical companies and other corporations maintain aviation operations at the airfield, and flight schools and the aircraft servicing outfit Ronson Aviation continue to use the facility.
The 82-year-old airport continues to host more than 80,000 flights a year but has seen a steady decline in traffic over the years. Flights at the airport peaked at nearly 177,000 in 1992, but had fallen to 80,211 by 2009, according to a Federal Aviation Administration database.
Anthony Sabino, an airline attorney and industry expert and professor at Peter J. Tobin College of Business in New York, said Trenton-Mercer and Streamline have two things going for them: First, he said, is a matter of timing. “While we clearly are still in a recession, there are signs that the economy is starting to pick up a little with business and vacation travel. As the economy recovers, people will be more interested in spending on an airline ticket,” Sabino said. The second reason is the airport’s “unique positioning” between the New York and Philadelphia regions. “Regional airports offer a more streamlined – no pun intended – operation. It’s less crowded in Trenton-Mercer, there’s less time wasted on the ground, which is particularly important for business travelers.”